In the fifth round of Group D of the UEFA Nations League 2020/21, Switzerland hosted Spain. Switzerland, who are in the last place in the group, were aiming to avenge their previous defeat against Spain, especially after their positive draw against Germany.
On the other hand, Spain were trying to come back to the winning streak again after their previous defeat against Ukraine. They wanted to return with the three points to continue leading the group without any considerations for the other match between Ukraine and Germany.
In the end, Spain managed to snatch the equaliser in the final minutes, while Switzerland remained in the last place of the group D.
Switzerland started the match with a 3-4-1-2 which offered its strengths and weaknesses as we will see later on. The goalkeeper was Yann Sommer and the back three consisted of Ricardo Rodríguez, Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi.
The midfield four were Steven Zuber, 28-year-old Atalanta player Remo Freuler, the Arsenal player Granit Xhaka and Edimilson Fernandes. The attacking trio were Xherdan Shaqiri, Breel Embolo, and Haris Seferović.
On the other hand, Spain started the match with 4-3-3, which turned into 4-4-2 after Álvaro Morata entered in the second half. The goalkeeper was Unai Simón with Sergi Roberto, Sergio Ramos, Pau Torres and Sergio Reguilón in defence.
The midfield trio were Barcelona‘s player Sergio Busquets, Mikel Merino, and the 24-year-old Napoli player Fabián Ruiz. In attack Ferrán Torres from Manchester City, Mikel Oyarzabal, who played after Ansu Fati’s injury, and the striker, was Dani Olmo.
Switzerland’s pressing and their defensive issues
Contrary to what was expected, the Swiss players started the match pressuring on Spain’s players in their areas. The pressure of the Swiss players was characterised by the necessary intensity and organisation, as Spain were not able to get the ball out of their areas as usual, which often forced them to pass the ball out incorrectly.
At the start of the match, the Swiss players relied on preventing Spain’s defenders from passing the ball to Ramos to prevent them from building up. And if the ball reached him, a number of Swiss players would close all the front passing lanes to force him to pass the ball back.
Below we can see the spread of Swiss players in Spain’s defensive third to prevent them from building up.
Similarly to the high press in the opponent’s areas, they were also great at pressing in half, as they enjoyed a relatively low PPDA in the first half and did not enable Spain’s players to reach dangerous areas often.
Here we can see that in the PPDA report for the match, as the average passes made by Spain in the first half without pressure was 12.3, which is relatively low.
There is no doubt that their press was fairly good, but in the defensive phase, they were suffering from not lining well in their own third when the ball approached the box.
Gaps always appeared between the lines, especially in the second half, where the Spanish players were moving freely in these gaps and were able to reach the dangerous areas. Luckily for Switzerland, they did not take advantage of their opportunities.
Below we can see the gap between the two lines of defence where three Spanish players move freely in this area even and reached to the box, although they did not succeed in scoring a goal.
Spain’s players under pressure
In the first half, with the pressure of the Swiss players in all areas of the field and the closure of all passing lanes, the Spanish players had nothing but to pass horizontal balls to the sides away from the pressing structures.
Spain collected the play on one side as much as possible to attract large numbers of Swiss players and then quickly switch the play to the other side with a forward pass as shown below.
Here is another example of how Spain’s players pass the ball in the build-up phase under pressure, where Switzerland’s players close the lanes to Ramos and forced him to pass the ball on the other side away from the Swiss pressing structure.
Players like Merino, who had the ability to hold the ball as long as possible under pressure had an effective role throughout the match in order to overcome Switzerland’s press.
It is very important now for any coach to have players who are good at playing under pressure, especially since football is moving strongly to this type of play. A player who has this feature can be a key to solving many problems that coaches face in overcoming opponents’ pressure.
Here, for example, the 24-year-old Real Sociedad player Merino received the ball well surrounded by two Swiss players. Then he dribbled and passed the ball in the best possible way while he was tightly covered.
Spain’s offensive phase
The Spanish players did not have a large offensive presence in the first half due to the pressure that they were subjected to.
But in the second half, with the Swiss players retreating to their areas, Spain were able to pass the ball in the opponent’s half and pose a danger to the Swiss goal which helped them to equalise in the last minutes.
In the xG report for the match below, we can see that clearly, as the Spanish players did not have a high rate of expected goals in the first half, but this rate was improved in the second half.
In the second half, Spain relied on passing the ball from the sides into the box. As shown below in the xG report by flanks, the percentage of the expected goals from the central channels were 59% of the total goals expected throughout the match.
Here, for example, Torres moves the ball to the right side and then passes the space behind the defender towards Olmo, but he does not use it well to score a goal.
This method provided many opportunities to score, but Spain’s attacking players didn’t utilise them.
Here, too, is another example, but from the left side, where Oyarzabal passes the ball into the box in the space behind the two Swiss pressing players, but it was not used well either.
Switzerland were able to force Spain to a positive draw with a goal for each of them in the fifth round of Group D with Spain to the lead in the group.
Spain’s squad is a mixture of young and experienced players who continue to build a new generation. They entered this match without a number of their players due to injuries and they suffered from the start of the match but at the end, they came back and scored one goal, although the captain Sergio Ramos missed two penalties.
On the other hand, Switzerland have some good players and played a good game but failing to maintain their lead left them in the last place in the group.